Magnetic North Theatre Festival may get another life, new board says

The moribund Magnetic North Theatre Fesitval might not be finished after all.

A new board of directors has embarked on a mission to revive the 15 year old festival which was suspended this past March because of a financial crisis.

The new board will include four individuals with extensive experience in performing arts administration. They are: 

Heather Redfern will be board chair. Redfern currently is executive director of The Vancouver East Cultural Centre where she oversees a program of more than 20 different presentations a season. She has been executive director of the Greater Vancouver Alliance for Arts and Culture and the artistic producer for Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton. She has sat on several boards including The Koerner Foundation and the Edmonton Arts Council. She was the first chairperson of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, which she helped found.

• Ken Gass is the new vice-chair. He is the artistic director of the Canadian Rep Theatre. Gass’s recent projects include the founding of ENSEMBLE Canadian Youth Theatre/Théâtre Jeunesse Canadien with productions of Dreams (Rêves) by Wajdi Mouawad and an ensemble adaptation of Tough! by George F. Walker. He was the founding artistic director of the Factory Theatre in Toronto. (1970–79; 1996–2012).

• Amy Lynn Strilchuk is the new board secretary. She is an arts programmer, producer, and promoter. She has worked with Alberta Theatre Projects, Arts Club Theatre Company, Ballet BC, Electric Company Theatre, Gateway Theatre and Green Thumb Theatre.

• Tammy Fox is the treasurer. She has been involved in performance arts for more than 20 years including acting as Agency Director for the booking agency, Fox Entertainment. She is the executive director of the Burlington, Ontario, Performing Arts Centre.

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival for 2017 was cancelled last spring and at that time a revival seemed a very remote possibility.

Mike Hawkes, the past chair of the Canadian Theatre Festival Society, which produces Magnetic North, told Artsfile at the time that “the financial obligations that the festival has (incurred) exceed our capacity to … (present the festival).”
In a statement, the society’s board said: “The Board of Directors of the Canadian Theatre Festival Society announced it is cancelling the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.  The Festival was scheduled for 16-24 June 2017 in various arts venues in Ottawa, including the National Arts Centre, la Nouvelle Scène, and Ottawa Arts Court. As a result, the seven productions from across Canada, programmed prior to Artistic Director Brendan Healy’s appointment in November 2016, as well as its annual Industry Series for professionals in the Canadian and International theatre, are cancelled.”

The festival, which was founded in 2003, was carrying an accumulated deficit of $224,000 at the time and faced a further shortfall of $150,000.

Magnetic North Theatre Festival was held bi-annually in Ottawa and then it went to a different community every other year. The first festival was in 2003. Since then it has been in Edmonton, St. John’s, Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo, Calgary and Halifax. 

In a media release the new board of the festival said that the plan had been to declare bankruptcy by the annual fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, the release states, Redfern began exploring possibilities for renewing the festival after a hiatus year.She is said to have seen the potential for the existing festival deficit to be addressed.As a first step the new board “is reaching out to those individuals owed money and will be activating a fundraising campaign to help the 2017 festival artists, employees, and contract workers receive payments owed.”

Over the next year, the new board will also start meetings with potential stakeholders to see what potential there is for a revived festival.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.